What’s in a name? I started working at the Administrative Conference of the United States just a short while ago and soon found that there were many variations of the agency’s name. For example, the agency has been referred to as the “Administrative Conference” or the “Conference.” I, for one, originally called it A-C-U-S. But that’s not the most utilized variation. Neither is “Ah-Kuus.” The most used and historical variation is “A-CUS,” “A” as in “ace” and “CUS” as in “custard.” So now that we’ve addressed the pronunciation, what exactly is ACUS? What does it do? When I began working here, I understood what ACUS was on a macro level. Perhaps President Obama said it best when ACUS was re-launched back in 2010. He said, “ACUS is a public-private partnership designed to make the government work better.”
But what is ACUS on a micro level? How does ACUS accomplish its awesome—both lofty, but frankly, daunting—goal? At a slightly lower level of generality, ACUS identifies an administrative process that may need improvement—such as the process of immigration removal adjudication. ACUS studies that process, and recommends ways to improve it. But even that description is too high level to be very useful. At an even lower level of generality, I have discovered that ACUS accomplishes its mission through collaboration. Let me show you what I mean by taking you through the recommendation process: idea to recommendation, start to finish. Administrative processes ripe for improvement may be identified by a number of different groups or people. They may be identified by the Chairman, the Council, the Assembly, the committees, the staff counsel, or others (such as the ABA, former ACUS staff, academics, and the House Judiciary Committee). Once the area is identified, the idea for the project is born. The project will explore the identified administrative process and how best to address any areas that may be improved. The Chairman and staff prioritize proposed subjects and submit the top choices to the Council for its approval. After the project is approved, typically a request for a proposal is issued, by which the agency elicits a consultant to be the project researcher and produce a report. Once ACUS hires a researcher and assigns the project to a particular committee, the staff counsel for that committee works with that researcher to develop the report’s goals. The staff counsel assists the researcher and manages the project as a whole.
Are you still with me? Once the researcher’s report is submitted, it is distributed to the project’s committee. The committee meets to discuss both the report and recommendations that may be made based on the report’s findings. The committee may meet several times until it can achieve a consensus on a proposed recommendation, which is then referred to the Council for approval. Once the Council approves the recommendations, they are submitted to the full agency membership for consideration at its semi-annual Plenary Conference. The project and recommendations are presented. The Assembly members debate, offer their own changes, and then vote on whether to adopt the recommendations. The Assembly’s adopted recommendations become official recommendations, which are then publicized and forwarded to agencies and Congress, as appropriate, for implementation. That’s the theoretical groundwork for one of ACUS’ key roles: a process-improving, recommendation-producing, consensus-driven, collaborative agency. ACUS has many other facets that are impossible to explore in a single blog post. To identify just a handful, ACUS puts on conferences, workshops, and training sessions on administrative law and processes, holds informational sessions for Congress and administrative agencies, provides assistance to congressional staff, and publishes materials, like sourcebooks for agency guidance and implementation of recommendations. Perhaps those activities will be taken up in future blog posts. In the meantime, my next post will take a specific recommendation and walk it through the process I have outlined above, so stay tuned!